Pocahontas: 16 Facts About the Real Pocahontas - Myths Vs. Sad Reality
16 Facts About the Real Pocahontas

16 Facts About the Real Pocahontas

Shannon Quinn - September 28, 2018

16 Facts About the Real Pocahontas
This postcard showed an illustration of Pocahontas and John Rolfe. The world believed that Pocahontas had the best of both worlds, but she was actually never allowed to return home. Credit: Getty Images

3. She Died While Trying to Sail Back Home

After serving her purpose as the symbol of peace in The New World, Pocahontas pleaded with John Rolfe to let her sail home to see her family. For the first time in five years, she was told that she could finally go back to Virginia. She was 21 at the time. They celebrated by having dinner with Captain Argall. Remember that Argall was the same man who kept her captive, and he was possibly one of the men who raped her. That same night, after eating the food they placed in front of her, she began to vomit blood. Soon after their meal, she died. Rolfe and Argall claimed that she had consumption, which was common at that time.

Considering that she was 21 years old, it was shocking that she would die so suddenly. Usually, tuberculosis takes a very long time to kill someone. Her sister and the other natives who were with her in England say that she was in perfect health in the days leading up to her dinner with Rolfe and Argall, as well. Many people believe that she was poisoned and that blaming it on consumption was an easy way out.

The other Native Americans who came with Pocahontas to England were not allowed to return home, either. They were sold as circus attractions. Since Pocahontas was legally married to John Rolfe, and she had become so famous at that point, the public would have been outraged if she had been sold off. Killing her and making it look like an illness seemed like the only way they could silence her forever.

16 Facts About the Real Pocahontas
A statue stands above Pocahontas’ gravesite in Gravesend, England. Credit: Gravesend Reporter

2. Her People Never Forgot Her

Instead of bringing Pocahontas’ remains back to Virginia to be together with her tribe, her body was buried in England. The English wanted to keep up the illusion that she was successfully converted to fall in love with Europe, and that she would have preferred to be buried there, anyway. Her father died soon after from grief. The Powhatan tribe has requested to move her body on multiple occasions, but they have always been ignored. This is probably because her gravesite is now a tourist attraction that brings in revenue to the town of Gravesend. They built a metal statue to go on top of her grave marker so that no one could possibly miss it. After the Disney Pocahontas movie came out in theaters, the number of people who visited her grave on a regular basis skyrocketed.

Since most of the written history was recorded by the white men who wanted to be remembered as heroes, the Powhatan tribe made sure to keep the true story of Pocahontas was kept alive by telling the story to each and every generation for over 400 years. These versions of her story were eventually written down in English.

16 Facts About the Real Pocahontas
A portrait was painted of Pocahontas and her son, Thomas Rolfe. Credit: Palm Coast Observer

1. Pocahontas’ Son Had Famous Descendants

After she died, John Rolfe wanted nothing to do with Pocahontas’ son, Thomas. He wanted to continue his journey back to Virginia and make his fortune tobacco farming. So, he handed the boy over to his brother, Henry Rolfe, who was willing to take care of him. Thomas would have been around 5 years old at the time.

John Rolfe did not leave any sort of child support for Thomas. Not only was this cold and heartless, but it also suggests that John Rolfe was not Thomas’ biological father, after all. However, he signed all of the legal documents in England claiming that he was the father. Even though this was a lie to cover up the crimes of the men on Captain Argall’s ship, Henry Rolfe had it in writing. He went to court to demand that his nephew should be left some sort of child support, and his petition was granted.

In 1622, the English court system gave Thomas a few acres of his father’s land when he was just 7 years old. When he grew up, he used this land to farm a plantation, and he made his living off of the land. He married a woman named Jane Poythress, whose father owned a lot of land in Virginia. They had one daughter together, also named Jane. He tried to ask the governor if it would be alright for him to visit his Native American relatives back in Virginia and bring his wife with him, but the judge said no.

Thomas Rolfe was still very famous, because of the legends of his mother. They were terrified that if he left England and chose to move to America, it would make England look very bad in the eyes of the public. It would seem like he had been kidnapped (which he had) and that he was finally returning to his true home.

According to records, John Rolfe wasn’t willing to share his money with Thomas when he was still alive, but you can’t take money with you when you’re dead. Since he had no other children, he left everything to Thomas in his last will and testament. This included a significant portion of land in Virginia when he died. Much of it once belonged to the Powhatan people. The tribe had also left land to Pocahontas’ first daughter, who Thomas never got to meet.

For the rest of his life, Thomas Rolfe was defined by his parents. Even his grave marker says “Son of Pocahontas” as the only description of who he was as a person. A Las Vegas entertainer named Wayne Newton is one of the many descendants of Pocahontas that went on to be famous. First Lady Edith Wilson also descended from Pocahontas.

 

Where did we find this stuff? Here are our sources:

The True Story of Pocahontas. Jackie Mansky. Smithsonian. 2017.

Pocahontas. Biography.com

Pocahontas: Her Life and Legend. National Park Service.

The Murky Tale of John Smith and the Mermaid. Helen Thompson. Smithsonian. 2015.

Pocahontas. The Powhatan Museum.

The True Story of Pocahontas: Historical Myths Versus Sad Reality. Vincent Schilling. Indian Country Today. 2017.

The Heartbreaking Story of Pocahontas. Peter Preskar. History of Yesterday. Dec 12, 2020

Thomas Rolfe. Wikipedia.

Also Read: The Real Story Of Mulan and Where Disney Got it Wrong. History Collection. October 8, 2019

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